Portable Stereo Repair

“Gotta have my tunes!” This Fix-It Guide on portable stereo repair tells how a portable stereo works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a portable stereo problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to disassemble a portable music device, how to re-solder a headphone jack, how to replace a portable stereo drive belt, and how to clean the laser on a portable CD player. This guide also refers to other Fix-It Guides for specific problems. Here’s how to fix portable music devices without missing a beat.

How Does a Portable Stereo Work?

Portable Stereo Repair

A portable stereo radio with bad reception may only need a new antenna–or the antenna tightened.

A portable stereo is a compact version of its full-size counterpart: an amplifier, cassette deck , and/or CD player . (The exception is the MP3 player that typically comes in only a portable version.) What makes portable units different from the bigger versions is portability–they are smaller and are powered by batteries rather than through electrical cords. Some deliver sound to headphones while others use small built-in speakers.

What Can Go Wrong with a Portable Stereo?

A portable stereo is vulnerable to mechanical problems caused by dirt and moisture, so a system that is kept clean and dry will have far fewer problems. If the stereo uses rechargeable batteries, the problem might be in the charging system, especially plugs, contacts, and jacks.

The most common problem with portable stereos is low-power or dead batteries. When any problem occurs with a portable music device, first test the batteries and clean the contacts. Then examine the headphones for breaks in the cord and loose connections that can interfere with the sound quality. While some headphones can be repaired, most are so small and inexpensive that replacement may be more practical.

Fix-It Tip

Like their full-size counterpart, portable cassette players need their heads cleaned once in awhile. The head is the surface that reads (hears) or writes (records) music signals off the tape. Use a cassette tape cleaner kit as recommended by the manufacturer.

How Can I Identify a Portable Stereo Problem?

All types of portable music devices:

  • If the unit doesn’t work, check and replace batteries, clean corroded battery contacts with fine sandpaper, and carefully adjust battery contacts as needed to improve battery performance. Also spray electrical contact cleaner into the jack and wipe excess with a cotton swab. If that doesn’t solve the problem, open the unit and inspect the jack for broken connections; re-solder connections as needed (see below).
  • If the sound is intermittent, look for corroded or bent contacts in the headphone plug or jack. Also check for a broken headphone wire and repair or replace the wire if you find one broken. Check for a loose or broken external antenna.
  • If the sound is fuzzy, try the headphones in another unit and replace the headphones if necessary.
  • If the function buttons don’t work, clean any dirty button mechanisms with electrical contact cleaner, then carefully lubricate them with white lithium spray.

Cassette players/recorders:

  • If the cassette doesn’t play high frequency sounds, clean the head with a head-cleaning tape. If the heads look worn or damaged, have a professional technician replace them.
  • If the tape moves but there is no sound, check for dirty control mechanisms (push buttons) and clean any that are dirty with electrical contact cleaner.
  • If the unit damages tapes, disassemble and inspect the unit (see below). If the player is driven by belts, clean them with a cotton swab moistened in alcohol. Replace any broken, glazed, or cracked belts. If the player is driven by gears, replace any that have broken or worn teeth.
  • If the unit won’t record, try a different tape in the unit.
  • If the record button won’t engage, carefully clean the button mechanism with electrical contact cleaner, and lubricate with white lithium spray.
  • If the record unit does not erase, demagnetize the erase head (see the Cassette Deck Fix-It Guide) or have the head professionally serviced or replaced.

CD player:

MP3 player:

Refer to “All types of portable musical devices,” above.

Fix-It Tip

Hang on to the owner’s manual. Set aside a specific drawer or file box where all owner’s manuals go. They typically offer troubleshooting charts to make fixing things easier. They also have parts and service information you’ll need.

What Do I Need for Portable Stereo Repair?

Replacement parts for most portable music devices are available from the manufacturer or from an aftermarket supplier. The tools and materials you’ll need to disassemble, inspect, and clean portable music devices include these:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Pliers
  • Electrical contact cleaner
  • Cotton swabs
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Lens-cleaning disc
  • Canned air
  • Soldering iron and solder

What Are the Steps to Portable Stereo Repair?

Disassemble a portable music device:

  1. Remove the batteries from the unit. Battery compartment covers typically are located on the back or edge, held in place by a pressure clip or a small screw.
  2. Remove all housing screws and unclip any tabs along the edges where the housing meets.
  3. Once you’ve accessed the device’s interior, inspect it for obvious problems or loose parts.
  4. Don’t remove the circuit board unless it is necessary to access additional components you think are broken and repairable (such as a built-in speaker). Handle components carefully–even fingerprints can damage intricate circuit boards.

Resolder a portable stereo headphone jack:

  1. Open the device to access the internal components (see above). Find the jack and inspect all connections for looseness, cracks, or damage.
  2. If the jack wires are loose, resolder following instructions that came with the soldering iron and gun. Avoid disturbing other connections on the board.

Replace a portable stereo drive belt:

  1. Open the device to access the internal components (see above). Find the drive belt(s). This may require carefully removing a circuit board. Inspect the belts for glazing, cracking, and other damage.
  2. Purchase exact-replacement belts in sets. (If one is going out, any others probably will soon.)
  3. Reinstall the belt(s) in the original configuration, being careful not to damage them.

Clean the laser on a portable CD player:

  1. Remove batteries from the unit and disassemble (see above) as needed to access the laser lens. Some lenses are accessed without disassembly; just open the CD top and there it is.
  2. Use canned air to blow dust out of the disc area.
  3. Use lens-cleaning fluid and a cotton swab to clean the laser lens. Remove excess fluid with a dry swab.

Fix-It Tip

You can buy a cleaning kit for cassette decks and CD players at Radio Shack or other stores that carry electronic equipment. They are easy to use and come with full instructions.